Presentation: Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town

, August 5, 2011, 8 p.m.

Lester Adams, VANSA (the Visual Arts Network of South Africa), Johannesburg, presents Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town, a public art project in rural contexts across South Africa conceptualised and facilitated by VANSA.

During the course of 2010, seventeen contemporary artists lived and worked in eleven different small towns/rural contexts across South Africa, and were involved in an extended period of research and local collaboration around interventions in public spaces and structures in these towns. These were largely concerned with creative reimagining of the public spaces of small rural towns and contexts. These interventions served as a basis for the development of more permanent artworks and interventions, intended to draw on and interact dynamically with the historical and contemporary experience of these communities.

The project has involved the interaction of artists who are largely urban-based and whose work has been shaped by the urban context, engaging in the radically contrasting context of the rural. 

This presentation will show the outcomes of this process and discuss some of the larger concerns around the project.

About the project

Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town developed out of an interest in exploring howbsome of the fundamental impulses within contemporary arts practice – towards the experimental, the instigation of wonder, the embrace of contingency – might work themselves out in places that are remote from the urban centres of contemporary art in South Africa. This was realised through a relatively simple and open-ended brief to artists which articulated a broad proposition around the reimagining and animating of public spaces in small towns, and which insisted on an extended process of research and engagement with and within the given context. In so doing we also sought to explore methodologies around public art practice outside of the conventional frameworks and agendas of public or corporate commissions, with an emphasis on process over outcome.

In our briefing of artists, we also sought to explicitly steer away from two common positions: that of the artist as (apparently) disengaged observer or commentator, and that of the artist-as-missionary bringing creative enlightenment into dark and deprived places. We have been more interested in the ways in which small towns – contrary to their common association with slowness, past-ness and lack – might be understood as a resource: places of history, mythmaking, aspiration and futurity, in which artists might participate as ‘engaged strangers’, in varying degrees.

On another level, Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town has brought together a number of VANSA’s core concerns as an organisation in a single, ambitious intervention. The project has sought to create new kinds of opportunity for contemporary artists to develop their practice in new contexts with new kinds of audience. Through project briefing and proposal writing workshops with more than 150 artists in 5 locations across the country, the organisation also aimed to bring together our concerns with professional practice on the one hand, and ensuring the strongest possible responsible from the call for proposals that we issued for the project on the other. Finally, the project has been fundamentally involved in generating a diversity of networks – specifically, networks which extend beyond the normal metropolitan confines of the contemporary arts, and which start to function as a dynamic and flexible kind of infrastructure that is not predicated on buildings, but on people.

The project was enabled through financial support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF), with additional in-kind support and co-operation from local municipalities and businesses. Additional support for the exhibition component of the project from the Goethe Institute is gratefully acknowledged.


VANSA - The Visual Arts Network of South Africa functions as a development agency for the visual arts in South Africa.
There are six key dimensions to our work:
– VANSA provides relevant and up-to-the-minute information on work, travel, learning and creative development opportunities locally and internationally.
– VANSA develops the skills and working knowledge of visual arts professionals through the development of accessible and useful resources and learning platforms.
– VANSA aims to build a more connected industry, linking ideas, people and projects across the country, the continent and the globe.
– VANSA creates and facilitates opportunities for innovation and experimentation for contemporary artists – exploring new contexts, new creative strategies and new audiences.
– VANSA conducts research into the industry aimed at identifying trends, challenges and – most importantly – solutions to industry problems.
– VANSA acts as an informed and independent voice for talking to government and the private sector - tackling the issues that matter, from funding to freedom of expression.

Please visit for more information about the organization.